Graham Glass, CEO of CYPHER LEARNING, participated to a live event for Digital Learning Day 2019. The event was hosted by Phill Bevan, Community Advisor at VETR, a digital learning community for the Australian vocational education and training sector. Phill and Graham had a wonderful conversation on the topic of e-learning and explored six key digital learning trends that are reshaping the EdTech landscape.

Digital learning trends that are reshaping EdTech

Without further ado, here are the general directions in which the industry of educational technologies is growing:

Adaptive learning and learner-centric education

Phill: The first question is about adaptive personalized learning. I’m hearing about this everywhere, and it’d be great if you could start with an explanation for those who aren’t familiar with what adaptive learning personalization is. And more importantly then, how do you see this area progressing in the next 12 months or so?

Graham: I’d love to. One of the things that we do have a benefit of is seeing the trends in schools and universities, because our product suite covers both these areas. There does seem to be a big trend in general towards learner centric education process. And learner centric is kind of even more important than adaptive learning or personalized learning. What it means is that the system is helping you to learn what you need, when you need it, in a way that makes sense to you, as opposed to a typical education environment where maybe at school everyone of a certain age goes through the same course, at the same time and, as most of us know, is not really the best thing.

If you look at the technology that a relatively young person uses, it is pretty personalized already. When you go to Twitter, you don’t see every single Twitter’s feed in the world. Twitter automatically knows what your interests are. So you get used to the idea that learning is fun, it’s personalized. So this generation, which is used to that in other spheres of life, naturally expect to see this personalization when they are learning something.

As far as adaptive learning goes, it is an approach to provide personalized learning. Adaptive learning basically means that the system is learning a little bit about you, and based on what it learns about you, starts either making recommendations or tailoring the content to you.

So for example, let’s just say that I was teaching computer science. They’re going to be some people who are really, really good at this and very early on in the course they show a lot of mastery of a set of skills; it’s going to be quite boring to them if they have to plow through a lot of remedial material. Similarly, if you’ve got someone who’s not very good, they might get totally left behind. So you can have a system where, based on measurements and quizzes and other data points, will automatically show advanced modules if you show advance, will automatically show remedial modules if you’re falling behind. And essentially that single underlying course, you’re getting different views on it based on what the system is learning about you. So that’s a little bit of what adaptive learning is and as it pertains to providing a personalized learning experience.

Video learning and microlearning

Phill: I want to move on to the area of video, which has been a trend for a number of years now, and just continues to grow. I was reading an article last week, that this year, 2019, the amount of video viewed over the Internet will surpass the amount of video people watch on TV globally. Where do you see this whole area of video going? We know it’s important, but why is it important and where do you see it heading?

Graham: I’ll use a personal anecdote. Unfortunately, my dog recently was quite ill. And so I had to figure out how to give my dog this subcutaneous drip at home. So what did I do? I didn’t find some e-learning 20 hour course on being a vet. I just went to YouTube, typed in “subcutaneous drip for dog”, found a good video and I watched it. And I actually did quite a good job in the end. So, just from personal experience, if I want to learn a quick thing fast, I just go to YouTube, find the right video and do it.

So now put yourself into open environment and let’s just say you are about to conduct your first interview. So you just got promoted to manager, you’re going to do your first interview and you realize you don’t really have a lot of experience, what would you do? Ideally, you’d have in your platform a way to search for “how to interview”. And you might get this five hour e-learning course and a few others, and one might be a two minute video, five star rating on just how to do that one thing. Which one do you think you’re going to do? You’re just going to click on that a little video.

Another thing I need to mention is microlearning. Usually microlearning means a very small, bite-sized chunk of learning material, which is typically a video. There’s no quizzes, there’s no discussion groups, there’s no interactive sessions, which is more like a full blown course. It’s very restricted, very simple. There’s definitely a trend towards using microlearning for those kind of just-in-time convenience learnings. But those same modules are usually also repurposed as part of a curated larger learning experience. So I think one of the trends we’re going to see is these big blocks of high quality content being divided into lots of smaller modules, being made available as microlearning chunks when it makes sense, but also as part of a curated experience if you want the full one to two hour training course.

Phill: It’s interesting you mentioned that two things that I wanted to draw out there. The first one is the reviews. The reviews, the ratings, the number of watches, that authoritative nature of the content is actually coming from the users themselves, confirming that this is the best video to watch or it’s the most watched. I think that review component is really important. And bringing that back into a more structured environment, I suppose if those grabs are available within a school environment, someone still has to curate them. That’s the role of educators in the first instance, but maybe there’s some kind of user involvement in curating and reviewing that as well.

Gamification

Phill: The area of gamification keeps coming up as one of the ways to encourage, entertain, engage and keep that momentum going on a longer time period for the course. Gamification is another area that’s been around for a few years. Where do you see that trend going in the next 12 months?

Graham: I’ll tell you what, gamification surprised me. In the early days people would say, “Well, we keep on hearing about gamification, we need to add this to our products”. And I thought, “That makes pretty good sense. I could definitely see schoolkids loving this”. I thought adults or universities will just not going to bother. The interesting thing is, the number one use of gamification is corporation employees, followed by university students, followed by kids — totally the opposite of what I thought.

People are really, really driven by it. For example, I was at an event last week and we had one of our customer testimonials who was a professor in the Philippines, who is crazy about gamification, in a good way. He gave this demo of how it all works and it was really sophisticated: he had custom graphics, animations, and so on. He had 12 different kinds of levels, all with their own special meanings. And it would be: you first enroll in the course, you get X number of points. You get over this certain quiz score, you get this number of points. If you turn something in early, you get this number of points. But what he started doing, that was very unusual, was that he allowed the games and the levels to be used almost like free cards, like if you get to this level you can actually hand in an assignment late without a penalty, and if get to that level, you can skip one of any assignment you want. I thought that was so brilliant.

I also do want to mention that, there are a lot of talks about gamification. There are some products that literally gamification is at the end of the course you get a badge, that’s it. And so I don’t find that level of gamification that interesting. But I do think automation based gamification with games and levels and triggers and actions, then it’s like you can really use your imagination just like that guy did in the Philippines.

Phill: There are so many great examples, and I think you’ve nailed on a really key point that I was going to make as well, that quite often when we’re talking with educators in the Australian context, we still see gamification fairly much at the early adopter stage. There’s not huge amounts of adoption at this stage. That’s maybe because the technology in the past hasn’t been able to easily enable it. And another reason is just the lack of awareness of the various strategies and also how to implement gamification in an effective way.

Graham: In those kinds of conversations the first thing I would ask them is “Is that based on empirical evidence or just what you think is going to happen?” Because I thought no one was going to use it and I was completely wrong.

Competency-based learning

Phill: Another thing I want to ask you about was competency-based learning. In the Australian context, in our vocational system, we’ve had competency based training for about 25 years. But this whole area of competency-based learning seems to be gathering quite significant steam on a global basis. So can you give us a view from that global perspective, what’s going on with this area of competency-based learning and what it means?

Graham: I think this is actually the most important trend out of everything. I’ll tell you a little story and then I’ll tell you why I think it’s a big trend.

Because I’ve been in education for a long time, I always love hearing about what’s going on in different countries. And there’s this fantastic system in Sweden called knowledge schools. It’s a private school system, but it’s one of the fastest growing school systems in Sweden. And here is the way it works: the designers took all the things that you are meant to learn between age of say six and 18, and created this huge competency graph of it all, whether it’s math, biology, French, et cetera. They created all these modules that are all available online, all linked to those competencies. When you join the school, you get a personal mentor and the mentor interviews you, finds out your strengths and weaknesses, what you’re interested in. And then they say, “Well, based on what you’ve said, why don’t we just spend the first few weeks just delving into Physics?” And you can just go as fast as you like through Physics, and it doesn’t matter where you study. You can go home for two weeks and study on YouTube or you can come to school, or you can work with your cohorts. If you get stuck, you can schedule a private session or group session with the physics teacher.

So basically the school is tracking your personalized knowledge of all of these competencies. But you might get bored of Physics after a week and now want to do a little bit of Maths, a little bit of Science, a little bit of Chemistry. So you can go under your own pace, everything is being tracked, and they do not care how you learn something. All they care is that you end up learning it, which to me has always made so much sense. But it’s a relatively rare way to think, even these days.

People are beginning to realize that if you actually want personalized education then the system has got to know your strengths and weaknesses. Otherwise, how could it personalize? And the best way to track your strengths and weaknesses is to track your demonstrated mastery of these various different competencies. And these might be graded by self assessment or by a proctored exam. I think the competency-based learning is the key thing to opening the floodgates to personalized learning.

Want to learn more?

The above interview has been edited to present only the parts referring to the trends that are currently shaping the EdTech landscape. Graham and Phill touched upon other related subject as well, so if you’re curious about that and want to learn more, you can watch the entire live event here.


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